Sunday, July 27, 2014

13 True Ways Initial Thoughts (Part 2)

This is the second part of my 13 True Ways overview.  For part 1, which includes the first two chapters (new classes and multiclassing),  click here.

Chapter 3:  Cities and Courts
This chapter has in-depth descriptions for Axis, the Court of Stars, Drakkenhall, Horizon, and Santa Cora.  These are really flavorful descriptions and like most of the fluff in 13th Age, meant to be taken as suggestions rather than gospel.  There are multiple "takes" on many elements of these places, and each section (minus the Santa Cora write-up, which is brief) has descriptions of important places, themes, NPCs, everyday details, and a list of 13 rumors about the city/court.  In addition, Horizon and Drakkenhall go even further with descriptions of how each Icon is connected to the city.  The best part is that there are several examples for each Icon of how a relationship die result could be used in those cities.  I find these examples to be really useful for gauging how the designers intended Icon results to be used.  The description in the Core Rulebook is fine and all, but using Icons is consistently something discussed in forums and on the Google+ group as being difficult for a lot of GMs and players to grasp.  This chapter adds a lot of additional examples which can be used as-is, or to spark inspiration and/or serve to calibrate the effects of ideas that GMs might come up with.

This chapter and obviously the chapter with all of the new classes were my favorites.  I love having so much new setting information, and it's all the more pertinent since both Drakkenhall and Axis have featured prominently in both of my campaigns.  Interestingly, nothing in these descriptions outright contradicted what my group has established before, but it offers a ton of new ideas that will keep these cities interesting for a long time.  And while my group hasn't explored the Queen's Wood at all yet, the Court of Stars has a very "dangerous fey," fairy tale inspired feel to it which is exactly how I would run it.

Chapter 4:  Monsters
The monster chapter is a good chunk of the page count and offers a lot of new foes for GMs to throw at their players.  The entries follow the example from the 13th Age core rulebook as opposed to the detailed, narrative entries from the Bestiary.  That's ok though, because that's a bit outside the scope of the book.  The stat blocks themselves are excellent and some really fun monsters are included.  Besides that, a lot of space is devoted to devils, and they get their own Bestiary-style fluff chapter so it's actually a mix of the two presentations.  Most devils get a very thematic power called Devil's Due.  It works a bit differently for each type of devil, but the gist is that you basically have to give the devil its due if you want to use the Escalation Die.  If you decide to make the deal, using the Escalation Die carries a nasty negative consequence.

In addition to devils, there are higher level dire animals (boar, tiger, and giant praying mantis), azers, cloud giants, metallic dragons, elementals (which serve as both foes and summoning options for Druids), flowers of unlife (these have a nifty new resurrection mechanic), gnolls (new, nasty, high level gnolls!), mummies (there's an awesome story behind them), pixies, soul flensers (they're mind-flayer levels of nasty), specters, treants, werebeasts, and zombies (including the awesome headless zombies that break the tradition of the normal insta-death headshot crit rules for zombies).

Chapter 5:  Deviltry
This chapter describes many ways in which devils can fit into your campaign.  There's a unique, campaign-defining story associated with each one of the Icons.  Each entry includes a section on Origins and Agenda (this is the meaty part that describes what role devils will play), Hierarchy (which details the role(s) that each unique type of devil plays in this story, usually with Lemures at the bottom of the barrel and Pit Fiends ruling over everything else), and how Other Icons fit into this particular story.  Finally, there's 16 more Icon-neutral (mostly) ideas for using devils.  I found this chapter a bit dull to read straight through, but that's not necessarily the point.  The best way to use this chapter is to pick Icons that play a prominent role in your campaign and brainstorm how devils might fit into that story.  Each description isn't simultaneously true in any given campaign, but rather you'll pick one of the entries or use ideas from two or three of them.  And if you want to focus on devils again in a future campaign, you'll have plenty of ideas at the ready for telling a completely different story.

Chapter 6:  Gamemaster's Grimoire
Whereas the other chapters each have a specific focus, this one is basically a grab bag of miscellaneous stuff.  It starts out by introducing artifacts, which are unsurprisingly just really powerful true magic items.  They work more or less like other magic items, except that they have multiple powers that they can unlock over time.  Honestly, I've already implemented a few multi-power magic items and have also had individual items gain power over time instead of being replaced with more powerful items, so there's nothing really new here for me.  They do list three example artifacts: the feathered crown, the fist wrought of blood, and the gloves of the dark path.

Next we get three lists of 13 things.  There are dungeons/ruins, flying realms, and inns/taverns.  Each one gets about a paragraph of description and they seem to be great for GMs who need a quick idea in a pinch, either because they didn't have much time to prepare, are having a creative block, or when the PCs go off the rails.  I'm not a huge fan of flying realms that the designers seem to enjoy, but I'll admit that the entry for Big Dumb Rock was pretty awesome.  The taverns in particular will be great for adding some color to what otherwise usually ends up being a generic inn just like every other inn that the PCs inevitably end up staying at.  I'll admit that I don't usually think of embellishing on inns aside from a clever/funny name every now and then, but this list should change that, making inns interesting for their own sake.

Next there's more magic items, including some cursed items.  I'm honestly not thrilled with most of the magic items in here or in the core rulebook.  They feel a little too much like 4E D&D magic items, except they're not baked into the game's math and the quirk mechanic makes them more intrinsically interesting.  More than half of the items I've passed out to my players have been custom ones that fit the story, the character, or are just a weird thing I thought of at the time.  In my first campaign I passed out 3 magical daggers that all did different things.  One provided a bonus to rituals, one was able to cut through stone but had a certain number of charges, and the third launched its wielder into the air like a catapult when slashed through the air a certain way (this one had charges too).  I prefer weird powers that PCs can use in creative ways as opposed to having just another combat bonus.

Finally, there's a section on 3 monastic tournaments (which I didn't find particularly inspiring, but hey this is the book with the monk in it), 4 NPC descriptions provided by high-level kickstarter backers, and 2 living dungeons, also provided by kickstarter backers.  The NPC entries don't include stat blocks, but rather advice on how they might fit into your campaign with multiple options provided (including as allies or adversaries).  Each NPC also has a list of 13 rumors about them, which may or may not be true.

The living dungeons include Underkrakens (tied to the Soul Flensers in the monster chapter) and the Wild Garden (tied to the Flowers of Unlife, also in the monster chapter).  There are multiple options for what Underkrakens might be (vehicles, cities, monsters, or living dungeons), most of which have a Cthulu-like flavor.  There's even an optional rule for "sanity" called Terrible Enlightenment, and Call of Cthulu is straight-up referenced as an inspiration.  The Wild Garden entry is a little more detailed, with a background story for where it came from and then a quick walkthrough of an adventure.  The adventure is pretty bare-bones with a couple of paragraphs for each level of the dungeon and suggestions for what monsters to include (with page number references, but without repeating stat blocks).  Honestly, this is probably more useful to me than a traditionally-written published adventure.  I tend to be pretty bad at running prefab adventures, not least because I hate having to read a long adventure multiple times in preparation for running it, and because referencing them is usually a pain because there's so much text to wade through.  I could see myself running this, though.  A quick description to set the stage and provide a spark of inspiration that I can then expand and improvise upon as we play.  And since it has such a small word count it can be tacked into a "grab-bag" chapter like this without taking up too much space.  Too few adventures are presented this way, and while I'm sure a lot of GMs prefer the more detailed, traditional published adventures something like this works better for more improvisational GMs who like to do a lot of their own world-building and/or collaborative world-building with the players.

So that's 13 True Ways in a nutshell.  It's been a long wait, but it was worth it!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

13 True Ways Initial Thoughts (Part 1)

The first announced supplement for 13th Age, 13 True Ways, is finally out in PDF form.  If you preorder the book (which has a projected print release date of August), you'll get the PDF now.  This book is pretty much a grab-bag of everything, with plenty of useful material for both players and GMs.  And with that, I'll just dive right in.

Chapter 1:  Classes
This chapter contains 6 new classes for 13th Age, bringing the total for the system up to 15.  This includes the Druid and Monk, both initially intended for the core rulebook.  They were left out to prevent further delays of the book, because they weren't yet ready.  I'm fully in favor of making sure that a class is done right even if it means getting to it later, so while the wait was agonizing it's worth it to see the classes in their polished form.  Rounding out the list is the Chaos Mage (great for players with a randomness fetish), Commander (13th Age's answer to the 4E Warlord), Necromancer (finally a game gets this archetype right!), and the Occultist (a reality-bending, THE reality bending spellcaster.  There can be only one).

The Chaos Mage takes the wild magic flavor that's hinted at in the Sorcerer and takes it to the extreme.  You get three categories of spells - attack, defense, and Iconic.  When you roll initiative and at the end of each turn you randomly select a category (the default method is drawing colored "stones" from a bag, but there's an alternative that uses dice, though it's a bit clunkier).  On your next turn, you get to choose which spell of that category you want to cast.  You have a limited number of daily and 1/battle spell slots, so you're generally deciding whether you want to use an at-will spell or a limited use spell of some kind.  If you roll Iconic there are spells associated with each Icon (the Icon you use is determined by rolling a d12; the Emperor doesn't mess around with Chaos).  Some Talents allow you to randomly obtain spells from another class (Necromancer, Wizard, Cleric, or Sorcerer), and so this can give you a few extra choices (most of these will be assigned to either attack or defense, depending on what makes sense).  Their other talents are Warp talents, which give you a random benefit whenever you roll a certain spell category (i.e. Attack Warp, Defensive Warp, and Iconic Warp).  Finally, there's a class feature called High Weirdness (as if all of these layers of randomness weren't enough!).  High Weirdness gives you a random effect by rolling on a d% table in certain situations, and the effects aren't always beneficial.  I look forward to seeing this class in play because it looks like a lot of fun.  Unfortunately, this class will only appeal to a subset of players, and I'm not sure if any of them are at my table.  Maybe I'll take it for a spin one of these days, though admittedly I'd probably get burned out on the chaos after more than a few sessions, so I doubt I'd use it for a long-term campaign.

The Commander seems to be able to do much of what a 4E Warlord could, but without using 4E's AEDU system.  Instead Commanders use a mechanic called command points, which are gained during the fight.  You can either gain them by hitting with a melee attack (fight from the front), or by using a standard action to automatically gain command points (weight the odds).  Commanders rely on their interrupt actions, with which they spend command points to trigger Commands on their allies' turns.  They can allow allies to rally, let them re-roll missed attacks, boost their damage, gain movement, etc.  As a Commander, you'll really have to pay attention on everyone's turn to best make use of your abilities.  Commands are at-will, and rely on the flow of command points to limit their use.  Commanders also have Tactics, which are quick action recharge powers.  A major "family" of Tactics lets you use your quick action to grant extra attacks to your allies.  Yep, Warlord fans will enjoy this class, which along with the Monk is one of two new "martial" archetypes that join the Rogue on the complex end of the spectrum.

I'll probably end up doing a more detailed breakdown of the Druid in a future post (it's one of my favorite classes, after all).  Druids have shouldered a lot of different roles in D&D (sometimes simultaneously, if you've ever heard of CoDzilla from 3.x/PF), and the 13th Age design goal for the Druid was to let players build their own Druidic archetype without having to wield an overpowered mess.  Each of the 6 Druid talents encompasses a distinct schtick; you've got Animal Companion, Elemental Caster (which includes summoning), Shifter, Terrain Caster, Warrior Druid, and Wild Healer.  If you spend a single talent slot on a given talent you're an initiate in that sphere, but you also have the option to take a talent for two talent slots, in which case you become an adept.  Each talent lists its benefits for initiates and adepts separately.  As an added bonus, the Ranger gets a revision that makes its Animal Companion talent the same as the Druid's (if they keep it at two talents they gain a list of animal-buffing spells, or they can choose to spend only 1 talent on it and they get the companion every other battle).  Another interesting twist is that the spellcasting talents grants a mini spell list but by default only give you daily powers.  Druids can spend feats to pick up at-will and (with Terrain Caster) 1/battle spells.  The class design really does seem to strike a balance between covering everything that Druids have historically done without having to balance CoDzilla against the other classes.

The Monk is probably the most complex of the "martial" classes, rivaling some of the more complex spellcasters.  Monks use attack forms that consist of an opening attack, a flow attack, and a finishing attack.  Each form consists of a theme, but the fun of playing a Monk is mixing and matching your forms.  Using the opening attack from Dance of the Mantis to quickly get into melee range, following it up with the flow attack from Claws of the Panther to hit multiple guys, and then finishing it up with Three Cunning Tricksters for some defensive retaliation goodness.  You also gain a cumulative +1 bonus to AC after each step in your form, which resets back once you use another opening.  It does a great job of emulating movement while using a very different mechanic than the Rogue's momentum.  Monks also get a pool of Ki that they can use to modify their natural die roll by +/-1 (many forms use natural result triggers, but it's also nice for critting and triggering two weapon fighting), and in addition to that each talent grants an option for using Ki and the forms have feats that use Ki.  So you've got the sequential form-based tactics to think about round-by-round as well as a daily resource in Ki to use when you really need a little extra oomph!  The Monk is a lot of fun to play, and does a great job of emulating wire-fu martial arts.

The Necromancer is a breath of fresh air (except, you know, in the literal sense) because D&D has never done this archetype justice.  13th Age hits it out of the park.  You've got an improvisational talent (Cackling Soliloquist) that calls to mind Vance's Polysyllabic Verbalizations but with much more awesome flavor, one that lets you speak with the dead, a Redeemer talent that frees the souls of the undead you utilize (releasing a burst of holy energy when they're destroyed), you can gain a skeletal companion much like a Druid or Ranger get an animal companion (except you can set yours on fire with the right feat!), you can kill enemies that are already close to death with a quick action, and finally a talent called Sorta Dead which grants you the benefits of being Undead when it's convenient (or not, if it's not), and lets you roll a save when you die to heal instead.  Largely it's a fairly meat-and-potatoes spellcaster from a mechanical standpoint, with a heavy focus on summoning.  There are some surprising support spells in their list too (Necromancers can heal, but of course they do so by siphoning off someone else's life force!), and transmutation spells that offer various undead forms, and a surprising variety of plays on necromantic energy (things like unholy blasts and rotting curses).  And then there's my personal favorite, a spell that targets mooks by animating their own skeletons and causing them to burst forth from their bodies, granting you a shiny (well, bloody and messy probably) new skeletal minion.

Finally, we have the Occultist.  That's THE Occultist, because the default fluff is that there's only one.  Basically she's a powerful spellcaster that rearranges reality to suit her whims.  Like the Commander, he mostly focuses on interrupt actions.  The gist is that you spend your standard action to gather your Focus, and then you'll spend your Focus on someone else's turn to either make reality more favorable to your allies or make things suck even more for your enemies.  Reality also works a little differently for the Occultist, who recharges spells just a bit differently from normal people (she doesn't necessarily recharge the same spell, but rather that spell slot), and because he tends to send his intellect all manner of places that's not his physical body, he receives magical healing a turn late.  The Occultist sounds like a very interesting support character, with perhaps more of a damage focus than the Commander, and to use 4E roles can be a neat mix of leader (helps allies) and controller (screws over enemies).

Chapter 2:  Multiclassing
As expected, 13th Age multiclassing is not as straightforward as most other mechanics for the system.  The classes are just too diverse for a simple formula, and the designers are (rightly) too concerned with balance to allow a min/max focused solution that would run roughshod over other PCs.  Each class has details for making 1st level multiclassed characters (the new classes have a line for it right in their level progression chart), and otherwise a multiclass character gains spells or other powers one level lower than their current level.  So a 4th level Fighter/Wizard would have the maneuver pool of a 3rd level Fighter and the spells of a 3rd level Wizard.  You get the base AC of whichever class is better for a given armor type (though penalties still exist if, for example, you cast Wizard spells while wearing heavy armor), and you average your base HP (rounding down AFTER you multiply for your level) and recovery die (the die type rounds up).  Your weapon damage die drops UNLESS both of your classes are from a list of "skilled warriors," and the ability score you use is your "key modifier."  There's a big key modifier table for each class combination that ensures each multiclass character has to care about two ability scores.  Your key modifier is the lowest of the two indicated ability scores, and is used in place of either score for the purposes of making attacks and damage.  The math is really well-done for the most part; for example, Fighter/Wizard and Fighter/Sorcerer key modifiers are Dex/Int and Dex/Cha, respectively.  Str certainly would have been more intuitive, but that would result in a character that wants to keep two scores high, neither of which contribute to AC.  As Dex is an AC boosting stat you won't get gimped for these combinations.

Still, multiclassing generally won't get you an overpowered character.  Quite the contrary; the designers flat out state that most of the time a multiclass character will probably have less raw power, but more diversity.  They also advise doing the simple talent swaps from the core rulebook if that fits your concept well enough; multiclasing is mostly for those who have a concept that they just can't achieve any other way.

Part 2 of my overview of 13 True Ways features chapters 3-6.  Yep, that's a lot more chapters than Part 1, but the class chapters are very meaty so I'm cutting this post off here.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

13th Age Gnome Illusionist (RAW)

I had a random thought the other day about the lack of illusion spells in 13th Age and the fact that of all the Wizard specialist builds Illusionist has (arguably) been the most popular historically, and yet the only one we've gotten is the Necromancer (thanks to 13 True Ways).  Don't take that as a complaint against the Necromancer; it's never been well done (or even fully realized) in D&D, but 13th Age has knocked it out of the park!

Speaking of which, a review/impressions of 13 True Ways is forthcoming (as a Kickstarter backer I've had the PDF since the 27th), but I'm still reading through it.  Since it doesn't include an Illusionist, and none of the popular fan-made classes have been an Illusionist, I was thinking about how one might approach the archetype in 13th Age.  The more I thought about it, the more I realized that you can make one pretty much using the existing material.  Here is one such approach.  I'm leaving out Icons, Backgrounds, and OUT because it's more fun for a player to come up with that stuff on their own.  The point of this post is more to illustrate a concept than to provide a finished character.

Race: Gnome
Class: Bard
Level: 1

Ability Scores (tinker as desired):
Str 8, Dex 16 (class), Con 10, Int 18 (race), Wis 14, Cha 12

AC: 15
PD: 11
MD: 14
HP: 21

Recovery: 1d8+0

Loremaster (replace Cha with Int, choose either of the other two benefits)
Battle Skald
Jack of Spells

Since Illusionists are traditionally Intelligence-based, it seemed appropriate to do the same here despite using the Bard class.  Conveniently, Loremaster ensures that there's no conflict here.  Battle Skald might seem like an odd choice but one of the key concepts of this build is that Battle Chant is going to be flavored as your bread-and-butter at-will illusions.  What exactly the illusion does will depend on the roll, and the damage can represent the loss of morale, growing frustration or fear, or simply the illusion causing the target to open their defenses such that an ally can exploit it.  Part of the fun of playing an Illusionist is letting your creativity run wild; even in D&D where options are usually pretty rigidly defined, illusion spells have always been an oasis of free-form improvisation.

Racial Powers:
Minor Illusions

Powers and Spells:
Battle Chant
Terror (Necromancer), Blur (Wizard), or Ways of the Dark (Druid)

Stay Strong!, Move It!, We Need You!

So we've already established that Battle Chant will be flavored as your every day illusions.  What else do illusions do mechanically?  Well, they're intrinsically all about confusing your opponents and so any spell that applies the Confused condition is pure gold.  Bards do a lot of this, and Befuddle is your first workhorse.  You've got a few options for Jack of Spells, but Terror does a good job of emulating a terrifying illusion that causes any sane person to flee.  Blur represents an illusion applied to yourself (and could provide a useful defensive boost since this build is pretty squishy), and Ways of the Dark is a good way of creating the illusion that you (the caster) aren't even there.

As far as Battle Cries are concerned, notice that we're not taking the staple Pull It Together!  Illusionists aren't really about healing, so as tempting as it is the pick this up it's not really on-theme.  Illusions can, however, distract an enemy long enough to let an ally disengage or make a save, and Stay Strong! could represent a defensive illusion along the lines of Blur or Mirror Image, or it could also simply be a distracting illusion.

Feats:  Battle Chant

Even if Illusionists are more about control and misdirection, you still want to contribute to damage.  HP are an abstraction anyways, so keep in mind that you're not necessarily dealing physical wounds and play that up.  If you're the one to deal the "killing blow" to an enemy, try to think more along the lines of taking them out of the conflict as opposed to actually knocking them unconscious.  A distracted mind could lead to physical harm, sure, but it can be just as interesting if the enemy flees out of fear, or simply because they're chasing something that's not there!

Level 5

So let's check in with our Gnome Illusionist now that we've achieved Champion tier.  While it doesn't matter quite yet with the array I've chosen (all evens), at level 4 we've boosted INT because it's the primary attack ability of the Loremaster Bard, as well as the Wizard and Necromancer, two highly useful classes to Jack spells from.  It's also probably a good idea to boost WIS (the Cleric and Druid both offer attractive options for Spell-Jacking as well, not to mention that it contributes to AC) and Dex (again, we're thinking about AC here but Initiative is also important, and besides that if you ever need to actually hit something with a melee weapon you can use Dex for that as a Bard).

Now let's see what's changed.

3rd Level Spells:
Vicious Mockery
Song of Spilt Blood

5th Level Spells:
Battle Chant
Terror (Necromancer)
AND/OR Cause Fear (Cleric)
AND/OR Ways of the Dark (Druid)
AND/OR one of the following Wizard spells:
Color Spray

Battle Cries:
Take Heart!
Move It!
Stay Strong!
It's All Yours!

1. Battle Chant (A)
2. Battle Skald (A)
3. It's All Yours! (A)
4. Befuddle (A)
5. Jack of Spells (C)

Note that I've taken the Champion feat for Jack of Spells without first taking the Adventurer feat, as per the optional rule that GMs can allow players to take higher tier feats if they don't build off of the lower tier feat.  I don't consider the "use X ability in place of Y" feats particularly useful since you'll generally only get 1 spell from another class with these Talents, and they're usually Daily options.  Combined with the fact that spells are usually pretty accurate since they target PD or MD, I fail to see how a +2 1/day is that big of a deal (assuming you're trying to boost a WIS spell from the Cleric or Druid).  Not to mention the fact that most Illusionists will probably pick a Necromancer or Wizard spell anyways, and so everything you've got probably uses INT.  Thus, the Adventurer tier feat for Jack of Spells will either do nothing or not much (Jacking Terror from the Necromancer is probably your best bet), and so if your GM insists that you take it before the Champion feat they're just being a jerk.

Level 10

So what does this Illusionist look like at the end game?  Let's find out!

Spells (all 9th Level):
Battle Chant
Vicious Mockery
Song of Spilt Blood
Song of Victory
Song of Destinies
Terror (Necromancer)
Cause Fear (Cleric)
one of the previously mentioned Wizard spells
OR Ways of the Dark (Druid)

By the time you reach Epic tier you should probably have BOTH Terror and Cause Fear because the concept of creating an illusion so frightening that your opponent wets their pants and runs for the hills is just too fun to pass up.  The Wizard offers a ton of strong options that can be flavored as Illusion spells, but if you want an at-will alternative to Battle Chant you'll probably want to pick up Ways of the Dark from the Druid.  Although Color Spray just might be good enough as a cyclic spell, since by now you'll have enough options to keep you pretty busy.

The songs might come across as a bit odd on an Illusionist, but you don't have to literally sing them.  Just say they're illusions that require some concentration to sustain.  Some of these are a bit of a stretch, but ultimately I went with the options that fit the concept best, if not 100% perfectly.  Again, I'll reiterate that even though you're using the Bard class you'll mostly be staying away from healing options.  You might want to just tell your party that you're playing an Illusionist and re-name all of your spells so they don't get false expectations when they hear you say "Bard."

Battle Cries:
Take Heart!
Move It!
Stay Strong!
It's All Yours!
Victory is Ours!
They Fall Before Us!
The Time is Now!

1. Battle Chant (A)
2. Battle Skald (A)
3. It's All Yours! (A)
4. Befuddle (A)
5. Jack of Spells (C)
6. Battle Skald (C)
7. It's All Yours! (C)
8. Jack of Spells (E)
9. They Fall Before Us! (E)
10. Confounding (C)

Obviously feats are where an individual player has the most leeway.  They're designed to allow you to specialize in certain areas, and Bards (especially those with Jack of Spells) tend to have a lot of options that can be improved via feats.  The most important feats are Jack of Spells (because other classes have excellent options that can easily be flavored as Illusions, and having a bunch of stuff that fits well also serves to dilute those options (like some of the songs) that are a bit more borderline) and that first Battle Chant feat (because you'll really want to avoid swinging a melee weapon; an Illusionist is a spellcaster, and you're trying to create the feel of a Wizard more than a duelist Bard!).